PORTLAND, OR – Let the naysayers be warned. The mobile food industry is far from a fad and is only going to grow.

roam conference

That was my biggest take away from the first ever ROAM Conference this weekend in Portland, Oregon.

We flew in from Chicago late Friday night not knowing what to expect, but the unknown quickly changed as we took the TriMET train to our hotel. It was late and it had been a long day, but as we were determining where we needed to get off the train, I glanced over to see the gentleman sitting next to me was reading some ROAM literature. I introduced myself and found that  the gentleman just so happened to be Brad Moore. Brad is the owner of Short Leash Hot Dogs from Phoenix. He was here for ROAM and was looking forward to the  speakers and networking opportunity the conference was providing.

The event started early, but you would have never known that the attendees were coming from literally around the world. The buzz being generated was not from individuals suffering from jet lag, but from those who were excited to discuss mobile food and learn from some of the biggest names in the industry.

The crowd was broken up onto two separate conference rooms. One for existing food truck owners and food truck organizers. The other group was for the bushy tailed newbies. The individuals who wanted to know if or how they could enter this fantastic industry of culinary entrepreneurs. I was asked and gladly accepted to moderate the discussion in the boot camp session.

While a large majority of the participants in the boot camp were from Oregon, there were individuals from as far away at Vietnam. The aspiring mobile food vendors ferociously took notes and questioned the speakers who spoke on topics such as:

  • Lizzy Caston: The Business Game Plan – Concept/Brand/Business Plan
  • Rick Humphrey and Scott Ross: The Wheels & The Tools – Truck vs. Cart, Rent vs. Buy
  • Stephanie Ganz and Barb Upchurch: It’s all about the Money – Crowd Funding, Assistance Programs & Loans
  • Matt Hoffman: Getting Legal – Permits, City Codes, Commissary Kitchens & Waste
  • Matt Breslow: Getting Ready – Selecting Vendors, Sourcing, Menu Planning & Production
  • Ginnette Wessel: Marketing 101
  • Brian Reed: Avoiding the most common mistakes

In the other room, existing mobile food vendors touched on topics such as business growth, profitability, trademark laws, sustainability and social media marketing.

At lunch we all gathered together to hear about the state of the industry from the president and CEO of the SOCALMFVA, Matt Geller. We were treated to lunch from Portland vendors Retrolicious and Bro-Dogs.

There was a lot of information and business cards shared during the day, but even as the formal discussions ended, we all loaded on buses (did I mention with local beer) and headed out to the Rose City Cart Pod for diner. This was my first trip to Portland and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a visit to my first PDX cart pod. As we off loaded from the bus, I was greeted with a very familiar scene.

Just as I have witnessed in cities across the country, this food cart pod was full of smiling vendors taking orders from smiling customers. Those that had already been served or were waiting for their orders were talking with those surrounding them, even if they had just met them while in line. The food and beer were being enjoyed by individuals and groups and the overall sense you would take from being there was one of comfort.

People often ask me to describe the mobile food industry, I think my trip to Portland and the ROAM Conference has cemented my opinion as, “Good people serving great food to enthusiastic customers. ”

If you missed the chance to attend, I hope that there is another conference in the near future for you to check out.

I would like to again thank the promoters of the 2013 ROAM Conference for allowing me to take part in your inaugural event.